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Guangzhou and Auckland: 20 years on partnership continues to flourish

China General Interest

An international partnership formed with insight 20 years ago through Auckland City Council has paved the way for an enduring trade connection between two leading cities.

Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, the powerhouse for China’s manufacturing, became Auckland’s sister city in 1989. The results of this long-term association have been as deep as they have been wide.

"The relationship hasn't been strictly economic. But from the foundations of cultural exchange and goodwill, Auckland has been able to leverage an effective and mutually beneficial business partnership," says Caroline Lassiter, international relations manager for Auckland City Council and executive committee member of the NZCTA.

The most obvious trade benefit to Auckland from the international partnership has been in education. An independent report compiled by Covec in 2007 identified that, on average, students from Guangzhou contributed $48 million annually to the Auckland economy. In return, students receive a world-class education at the best of Auckland’s schools and tertiary institutes. They take away a strong sense of New Zealand’s lifestyle and culture, which, in turn, benefits mutual bonds for years to come.

Last year, Auckland City Council, NZCTA and the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) took a joint business delegation to the 103rd China Import and Export Fair in Guangzhou. These fairs are amongst the largest in the world, take place biannually and focus on different sectors each session. Auckland businessman Bob Fenwick took the opportunity to be one of seven exhibitors at the NZ Inc stand with his company, Planhorse Systems (www.planhorse.co.nz).

"I found the international visitors encouraging," he says. "There were good volumes of people there." The exhibition proved worthwhile for Planhorse despite the fact that Chinese visitors were constrained by internal travel restrictions. "We’ve since sold to China," says Mr Fenwick "and I’m looking at going back later this year."

Auckland City Council representatives ensured value-added activities were included in the delegation’s programme.

"The council’s relationship was extremely beneficial," says Mr Fenwick. "The sister city relationship is fairly influential, and the fact that NZCTA, EMA and NZTE were also there, added strength to the group."

Due to Auckland’s relationship with Guangzhou, the city was able to arrange a local media delegation to visit New Zealand’s exhibition, resulting in a feature in the local paper and on television. Council was also instrumental in organising appropriate guests for a networking function hosted by the New Zealand Consul General to Guangzhou, and in introducing buyers and sellers at another function. Delegates also viewed major infrastructure projects nearby, arranged by the council, who were also responsible for securing high-level representation from the Guangzhou Municipal People’s Government at a dinner organised in honour of the relationship.

Apart from the six trade missions that Auckland City Council has participated in with Guangzhou, the relationship has been characterised by cultural and tourism promotion. Auckland's celebrated Lantern Festival, held annually to commemorate Chinese New Year, has been gifted lanterns from Guangzhou three times. Auckland has participated in Guangzhou's International Dragon Boat Tournament, and hosted the city's symphony orchestra. Guangzhou has celebrated Auckland Day (which had a tourism focus), and a staff exchange programme has taken place.

The cultural and social programmes are "part and parcel of respect and interaction between cultures", says Ms Lassiter. "Indeed, for Guangzhou, this kind of interaction is a measure of the importance of the relationship with Auckland."

"The subdued economic conditions worldwide only underscore the value of our international relations programme," says Ms Lassiter. "Business relationships and trust are not built overnight. After 20 years of sampling each another’s cultures, outlook and goods, Auckland's access to this very important market – and Guangzhou's access to ours – is accelerated and supported by the international partnership."

Tags: Guangzhou